Quantum computing is an emerging technology that could disrupt how cars will be designed and driven in the future. Unlike classical computing, which relies only on binary states of zeros and ones, it uses quantum bits or qubits, which can exist in multiple states simultaneously. These enables it to process large amounts of information at unprecedented speeds and solve complex problems that would take conventional computers an inordinate amount of time.
Potential impacts to the automotive industry
The automotive industry has begun to recognize the potential of quantum computing in revolutionizing how vehicles will be designed, manufactured, and operated. As today’s connected cars have become increasingly complex with their expanding ecosystem of sensors, processors, and communication systems, car manufacturers (OEMs) have highlighted the pressing need for more efficient and powerful computing. Leveraging the latest developments in quantum simulation, complex optimization problems, and sophisticated quantum AI and quantum machine learning, the industry is developing quantum computing applications to address its challenges.
Quantum computing is also expected to significantly impact the development of advanced materials and manufacturing technologies. By using quantum computers to simulate the behavior of atoms and molecules, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers can create new materials with customized properties, such as enhanced strength or better electrical conductivity. This could result in streamlined production processes and lighter, more durable components for vehicles.
Another area where the technology could play an important role is optimizing traffic flow and transportation systems. Using quantum computers that can perform real-time calculations, traffic engineers can now predict traffic patterns and congestion with better accuracy, leading to more intelligent and more efficient transportation systems. This could also decrease travel times, reduce carbon emissions, and improve road safety.
Finally, quantum computing is anticipated to contribute to the development of autonomous vehicles. For example, with high-speed and complex calculation capabilities, quantum computers can offer more dependable and precise sensing and decision-making systems for self-driving cars. This will not only provide safer and more efficient transportation but also result in new business models and services based on self-driving car technologies.
Car OEMs seizing the opportunities
As the potential of quantum computing for powerful computations became clear, more OEMs started to invest in or collaborate with quantum computing companies to address various optimization challenges in the automotive industry, such as battery power and vehicle design. Below are some recent examples of this trend.
Toyota signed with D-Wave Systems in 2017 to explore the application of quantum computers in its next-generation vehicles. More recently, in 2022, Toyota’s trading arm Toyota Tsusho Corporation partnered with the Israeli startup Quantum Machines to build future quantum capabilities and provide quantum technologies to Japanese customers.
Volkswagen has investigated various applications of quantum computing, including optimizing traffic flow, calculating real-time data for electric charging stations and unoccupied parking spaces, improving battery chemistry and materials, and developing new machine learning algorithms. The company is also partnering with quantum computing startups and research institutions, such as Cambridge Quantum Computing, D-Wave Systems, and Google Quantum AI. In addition, the company is participating in the development of industry standards for quantum-safe cryptography to ensure the security of future automotive systems in the post-quantum computing era.
Ford is using quantum computing to develop new batteries in collaboration with the quantum computing company Quantinuum. It has been using Quantinuum’s quantum chemistry platform, InQuanto, to research lithium-ion battery chemistry to model materials for next-generation electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Ford’s researchers Marwa H. Farag and Joydip Ghosh concluded in their study that computational chemistry can “provide insights about the charge/discharge mechanisms, electrochemical and thermal stability, structural phase transition and surface behavior, and it plays a vital role to find potential materials that can enhance the battery performance and robustness.”
BMW is exploring the potential of quantum computing for various applications, such as optimizing traffic flow and developing advanced materials for EVs. In 2022, BMW, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), hosted “Quantum Computing for Automotive Challenges” to analyze optimization problems using quantum computing. BMW is also working with Pasqal, a leading manufacturer of neutral-atom quantum processors, to enhance its primary manufacturing processes by using quantum computing for metal forming applications modeling.
A team of experts at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA) is exploring quantum computing to discover more efficient battery technologies, simulate aerodynamic shapes to improve fuel efficiency and driving comfort, or fine-tune manufacturing processes. In 2018, Mercedes-Benz formed a team of specialists in Silicon Valley that collaborated with IBM, Google, and external researchers around the world in developing software or algorithms that could solve previously unanswerable problems within a reasonable time frame.
Hyundai and IonQ, a trapped-ion quantum processor maker, are working together on an EV research project aimed at developing new quantum algorithms to explore lithium compounds and their chemical reactions and create an advanced battery chemistry model. Using quantum computers to conduct chemistry simulations, the researchers can study and adjust the charge and discharge cycles of batteries to improve durability, capacity, and safety.
This trend of OEMs partnering with quantum computing companies or setting up their own research is set to continue even though quantum computing is still in its infancy. According to a McKinsey report, quantum computing is expected to usher in significant economic impact to the automotive industry, estimated at US$2 billion to US$3 billion by 2030. This disruptive technology that could improve how connected cars are designed and driven in the future has the potential of being lucrative as well, especially for early adopters and trailblazers.
In the second installment of our two-part discussion on quantum computing in the automotive industry, we tackle its implications on automotive cryptographic systems.
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